Three contestants claim to be the same person. Four celebrities question the contestants, then vote for the one they think is the real person. That simple game has endured as a TV classic for over 45 years. This page pays tribute to the show that asked the burning question…
“Will the real ________ please stand up?”
Nothing But the Truth: The pilot that started it all
In 1956, The Bob Stewart-created Nothing but the Truth filmed its first pilot.
Our host: Mike Wallace. The 60 Minutes man did host several game shows in the 1950s, but this time he’s here just for the pilot episode. He becomes the first of at least nineteen different humans to host the show.
The panel on this occasion: Polly Bergen, John Cameron Swayze, Hildy Parks, and Dick Van Dyke. All of these folks would be fairly regular faces on the earliest episodes of To Tell the Truth, gradually giving way to the panelists we remember most fondly.
And now, the first-ever team of challengers to attempt to stump the panel!
All three of these people claim to be Tony/Toni Costello, a truant officer who, in 1932, sang backup for Frank Sinatra. The panel handled the game well for a debut outing. One difference was that each got two 30-seocnd questioning sessions – this slowed the game down markedly and was discontinued by the time the show aired.
Afterwards, Mike collected the votes from the panelists, which he would read off after the commercial break. But first, another bit of business:
The audience vote! Each seat in the house was equipped with a button that audience members could press at the appropriate time to cast their vote. This was dropped before Truth went to air, although audience voting returned in the mid-’60s and again in 2000.
So, we have three votes for Number One, and one vote each for Numbers Two and Three.
Will the real Ton(y/i) Costello please stand?”
It’s Number Two! Dick Van Dyke was the only panelist to vote correctly.
Upon the show’s sale to CBS, Truth acquired a new host in Bud Collyer, with a new title following soon after. The rest is history.
1956-68: A classic is born
To Tell the Truth debuted on December 18, 1956 on CBS-TV. On June 18, 1962, a five-day-a-week daytime version was added. The format was straightforward: three sets of challengers on each nighttime show, two on the daily show. After hearing the affidavit, each panelist got 45 seocnds to question the team, then cast their vote for the real person. The team split $250 for each incorrect guess by the panel. In the late ’60s, 100 members of the studio audience also cast their votes via electronic devices at their seats.
The original host was Clayton “Bud” Collyer, a distinguished gentleman who had been hosting the rather loony Beat the Clock since 1950, and previously provided the voice of Superman on radio.
The original announcer was Bern Bennett, who was to Goodson/Todman Productions in the ’50s what Johnny Olsen was in the late ’60s and ’70s – the go-to- guy. Bern left the show in ’60; later that year, Olsen himself came aboard and stuck around until the early ’70s, when he moved to L.A. and joined up with The Price is Right.
It took a few years for a regular panel to settle down, but by the early ’60s viewers grew accustomed to seeing the faces that would define TTTT through several eras: Orson Bean, Kitty Carlisle (both pictured to the left), Peggy Cass, and Tom Poston.
Among the guest panelists who frequently dropped by was a young comic named Johnny Carson. What the heck ever happened to him? Other names of note that frequently played the game at various points in time: Polly Bergen, Merv Griffin, Dina Merrill, Sam Levensen, Sally Ann Howes and Bert Convy. Merv Griffin was also one of the incredibly large number of guest-hosts who pinch-hit for Collyer; others included Gene Rayburn, newsman John Cameron Swayze, and even Mark Goodson himself!
The primetime version of Truth ended its run in 1967, with the daytime show going one year longer. But the show wasn’t gone for long…
1969-1977: The game goes on. Far Out!
Even though CBS had cancelled Truth in 1968, Goodson-Todman Productions knew the show could go on. After the success they found in moving What’s My Line? into five-day-a-week syndication, doing the same with Truth was only natural. The show made its triumphant return in 1969, often paired with Line? to make up the classiest hour on TV. Each day, two stories were presented, with the team splitting $50 for each incorrect vote, or $500 for completely fooling the panel.
Garry Moore, who from 1952 until 1964 hosted Truth’s other CBS cousin, I’ve Got a Secret, took over as host flawlessly. Besides Secret, Moore had hosted a couple of popular variety shows and was a much beloved TV figure. Plus, there were few on TV with as much experience with celebrity panel shows.
The look of the show was truly like no other to that point. The set was designed by Ted Cooper, but one could be forgiven for thinking Peter Maxx was behind it. Also contributing to the overall groovy feel of the show was the bubblegum-pop theme song, featuring lyrics! It’s a lie, lie, you’re telling a lie/I never know why you don’t know how/to tell the truth, truth, truth, truth…
Times may change, but there’s always room for Kitty Carlisle on TTTT! Along with Peggy Cass and Bill Cullen (who, as you can see here, also filled in for Garry as host from time to time), they formed one of TV’s most memorable panels. Old friends, including Orson Bean and Gene Rayburn, still dropped by from time to time.
In 1971, psychedalia was on its way out, and Truth toned down the set. Then, in 1974, with a move to NBC’s Studio 6A, yet another new set, incorporating the new “block letter” logo that would become the show’s signature look. Thankfully, the groovy theme song stayed.
1980-81: Can’t keep a good show down
In 1980, To Tell the Truth returned to daily syndication with a new version hosted by Canadian actor and emcee Robin Ward. Like the last years of the previous version, it taped at Studio 6A in New York, the future home of David Letterman’s and Conan O’Brien’s NBC talk shows.
In the new version, two rounds of classic Truth were played, with the teams earning $100 for each incorrect guess by the panel, or $500 for fooling them completely.
A new element was added to this version, called “One on One.” As it turns out, one of the day’s four impostors also has an interesting fact about themselves to share. Each panelist would take a turn questioning one of the four impostors, then vote “yes” or “no” as to whether that impostor was telling the truth. The team split an additional $100 for every incorrect vote from the panel.
There were no real regular panelists on this version of Truth – a departure from the panel show tradition. Frequent visitors included Soupy Sales, John Wade, and Polly Bergen. Most frequently seen, however, was the lady at left – Peggy Cass, a regular on every previous version of the show.